Bill Would Return Female Hawaii Prisoners From The Mainland

HONOLULU (AP) - Under a bill half way through the state Legislature, 174 female prisoners from Hawaii now held on the mainland would be returned to Hawaii prisons by mid-2009.

The bill was approved by the full Senate Tuesday and now heads to the House.

It directs the Public Safety Department to prepare a plan that would return all female prisoners to the islands by July 1, 2009. The department would also need to identify three potential sites for keeping women prisoners in the islands.

Last year Gov. Linda Lingle announced that she would not try to build any more prisons in Hawaii, in part because she said she couldn't "envision a community coming forward to support building a new prison facility of any size in this state."

In January, Iwalani White, interim public safety director, told the Senate Public Safety Committee that the administration "appreciates the overall concept of this bill as it includes initiatives supportive of our goals. But we are concerned about the cost implications."

In a committee report issued Monday, senators said it is important both for the female prisoners and their families to return the prisoners to Hawaii from the Otter Creek Correctional Center in Kentucky.

The legislation would not cover the nearly 2,000 male prisoners held in other mainland facilities. In addition to Kentucky, Hawaii prisoners have been held in privately run prisons in Arizona, Oklahoma and Mississippi.

"Children are the unintended victims of policies which house women out of state," said Lorraine Robinson, executive director of the prisoner support program TJ Mahoney. "Allowing women to restore family ties, through taking responsibility for their negative choices and making amends is extremely difficult while women are housed in mainland facilities."

In written testimony, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs sided with Senate Public Safety Committee Chairman Will Espero, D-Ewa-Ewa Beach-Lower Waipahu, who said that female prisoners have a better chance of rejoining society if they are in contact with their families.

But OHA also said "opportunities for program services are more available in mainland correctional facilities than in Hawaii and they would prefer to stay in the mainland facilities."

A report last month said it costs the state $62.05 per day for each mainland prisoner, or about $48 million a year.

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